The Birth of the Turkish Language

Before discussing the art of the Turkish language, it is necessary to study the origin of Turkey as a state. Turkey took a difficult and honorable role in the history of the mankind. Since the Stone Age, this country was a cradle of many civilizations; there are more than 2.500 antique settlements on its territory. Troy, palaces and ancient mosques, snow-white statues of Rome and the remains of the Byzantine culture are present in Turkey. Since the Middle Ages and till the times of World War I the Ottoman Empire (later becoming modern Turkey) extended its influence on the rest of the world – in the military way and by means of a word. It was one of the most powerful states in Europe and Asia. The following paper will discuss the birth of the Turkish language and its evolution up to the present.

Although the force of a weapon was used much more often, it is impossible to underestimate the Turkish language, which was an effective way of influence in trade, diplomatic and other interests, which the empire had in the Southeast Europe at that time.

At present, there are between 61 and 73 million people in the world speaking Turkish. It composes about 40% of a total number of all Turkish-speaking people and makes Turkish to be the first by the number of speakers among all Turkic languages. The outstanding Turkish researchers Göksel Aslı and Kerslake Ceyla represent the statistical data on the Turkish language:

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Turkish itself is spoken predominantly in the Republic of Turkey, of which it is the official language. No statistics are available as to how many of Turkey’s population of 70 million have Turkish as their first language. Most of the ethnic minorities have undergone considerable (in some cases, total) linguistic assimilation. In the largest ethnic minority, that of the Kurds (which is variously estimated to make up between 8 per cent and 20 per cent of the country’s population), a large number of people are bilingual. A reasonable estimate would probably be that Turkish is now the first language of 55-60 million of Turkey’s citizens, with another few million people speaking it with equal fluency to their native language.

Before the Kemalian revolution of 1918-1923 and declaration of Turkey as a republic, the language was called Ottoman, according to the name of the Ottoman Empire. Since the changes in the constitution of 1924 it has been called “Türk dili”. From the point of view of an ethnic origin, the Turkish language is a Turkic language, born in the Middle East. It has reached Eastern Europe by various ways. Considering the origin of the Turkish language broader, the Turkish language belongs to the Ural (Fin-Ugric) group of languages, which also includes such languages as Finnish and Hungarian. At present, the Turkish language is spoken by about 70 million people worldwide, the majority of which lives in Turkey. The other countries, having Turkish-speaking communities, are Denmark, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel and France. Ellen Thomas, Rebecca Truhn and Teresa Vargas include the Turkish language into the Ural-Atlantic language:

Turkish is part of the Ural- Atlantic languages. The official standard language of Turkey is Istanbul Turkish. However, like the other languages of the world, Turkish has various dialects that have been shaped by the mass media as well as by the Turkish education system.

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In the Turkish language, there is the sound “j” at the place of the noisy consonants in the related Turkic languages. Moreover, the distinctive features of the Turkish phonetics include the distinction of voiceless and voice consonants at the beginning of a word; in morphology – special forms of the present, a participle of past tense, preservation of the ancient Turkic form of a name of action, etc. The lexicon and grammar of the Turkish language were strongly influenced by the Arab and Persian languages; the literary language of the 16-18th centuries was sated with the Arab and Persian lexical loans; only grammar was left from the Turkic language.

There are the examples of loan words from different languages:

Arabic: “fikir” – “idea”, “hediye” – “gift”, “resim” – “picture”, “alkol” – “alcohol”, “saat” – “hour”;

Persian: “pencere” – “window”, “şehir” – “city”, “hafta” – “week”.

Greek: “liman” – “port”, “kutu” – “box”;

French – “lüks” – “luxury”, “kuzen” – “cousin”, “pantolon “trousers”, “kuaför” – “hairdresser”, “kamyon” – “track”;

English: “tişört” – “T-shirt”.

The replacement of the majority of the Arab-Persian loans by the primordially Turkic words occurred in the 1930th and was the result of the active language policy put into practice by the Turkish linguistic society created in 1932 at the initiative of the president Kemal Ataturk. Since 15th century, generally due to the activity of the Genoeses and Venetians in the East Mediterranean, the Italian words have been borrowed by the Turkish language. At the same time, there are loans from Greek, which were quite often accompanying the assimilation of the elements of culture and social establishments of the Byzantine Empire by Turks. Since the 18th century, as a result of a cultural and political influence of France, the French words come to the Turkish language, as well as the English loans after the World War II.

The literary Turkish language existed from the 13th up to 15th centuries in the form of the ancient Anatolian Turkic language. The forms of the existence of the literary language in the second half of the 15-16th centuries and in 17th – the first half of the 19th centuries (the last period is known as “Golden Age” of the Ottoman literature) are called, respectively, as an Early Turkish and Middle Turkish languages. They strongly differed from the spoken language of the corresponding historical periods. Modern Turkish language was developing in the first half of the 19th – the first quarter of the 20th centuries on the basis of the European group of dialects. At present, there is the influence of the dialects of the Anatolian group on the literary language. The written language existed up to 1928 on the Arabic basis. It arose under the influence of the East Turkic Kara khan Uyghur language, and was used as a written one in the 11-13 centuries on the territory of modern Central Asia and Kazakhstan. In 1928, in the course the Kemalian reforms the alphabet on a Latin basis with some additional letters was accepted.

The first European grammar of the Turkish language in 1533 was created by F. Argenti, the secretary of the Florentine consulate in Istanbul. The first description of the Turkish language in the Arabic language belongs to Bergamali Kadri (1530). In Turkology, there are three main stages of the development of Ottoman language: an era of the Old Ottoman language – the 13th-15th centuries; the Middle Osman period – the 15th-19th centuries; the New Ottoman period – the 19th – 20th centuries.  The era of the Old Ottoman language is connected with the period of the formation of the Turkish statehood and origin of the Turkish language from the languages of the Oghuz and Seljuk tribes. During the same period – the period of the formation of the feudal state – the Turkish language and a literary style began to be formed from the mixed, diverse elements of the Arab and Persian languages.

The era of the Middle Osman language falls on the period of blossoming and decline of the Ottoman Empire and development of the Ottoman language, more precisely, its high style, which undividedly dominated in all spheres of the state activity, in literature, science and art. During this era the role and value of the Arabic language – the language of Islam – the state religion of the Ottoman Empire strengthened. In the Arabic language teaching at religious schools – madrasah – was conducted.  It was impossible to read and write “in an Ottoman way” without the thorough knowledge of the Arab and Persian languages. During the Middle Osman period there was the main distinction of the Arab-Persian lexicon. Final separation of a high style of the literary language and colloquial standards of the national language took place. Thus, the language barrier completely isolated broad masses from a high literary style.

The era of new Ottoman language is connected with the period of the Ottoman reformism of Tanzimat (1839-1876) and new Turkish revolution (1908). The advanced figures of the Ottoman culture looked for the ways of overcoming the gap between the literature and colloquial standards of the Ottoman language, a way of its reforming in order to familiarize public masses with education. It was offered to avoid the use of the Arab and Persian lexicon in the presence of the Turkish equivalents in language, to refuse the foreign language grammatical rules and to establish the bases of the national Turkish language. However, during an absolutism era the social conditions for the reform of language were absent and the reactionary circles actively counteracted it.

During the Tanzimat’s epoch in the field of culture Turkey was guided by Europe, and it found its reflection in the Ottoman language in the form of a large number of lexical loans from the European languages, mainly from French. Despite the explosion of the national consciousness of the Turks and aspiration to solve the national and language problems, there were no positive results in the field of the reform of the Ottoman language during this period. The struggle history for the clarification of the Turkish language began in the 16th century, having gained a new development in the second half of the 19th century and having proceeded on the new basis figures of the group “Modern language” (1910). At Ataturk, in the first years after the creation of the Turkish linguistic society in 1932, the struggle for the clarification of language from the Arab-Persian loans gained the character of an extreme purism.

Being based on the facts of an origin of the Turkish state it is possible to draw a conclusion that the Turkish language, one of Turkic languages, is included into the Oguz group. Owning to the fact that the words with “Turkic” and “Turkish” value sound similar in many languages, the Turkish language is sometimes called “Anatolian Turkish” (according to the ancient name of the peninsula Asia Minor – Anatoly). The Turkish language was used as a means of belief and an effective way of influence in trade, diplomacy and other interests in the Southern Europe.


Göksel, Aslı, Kerslake, Ceyla. Turkish: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge Group. 2005. p. 9.

Lewis, Geoffrey. The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success. Oxford University Press. 1999.

Thomas, E., Truhn, R., Vargas, T. Turkish Manual: Language and Culture. Texas State University. 2012.

Göksel, Aslı, Kerslake, Ceyla. Turkish: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge Group. 2005. p. 9.

Thomas, E., Truhn, R., Vargas, T. Turkish Manual: Language and Culture. Texas State University. 2012.

Lewis, Geoffrey. The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success. Oxford University Press. 1999. p. 140

Lewis, Geoffrey. The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success. Oxford University Press. 1999, p. 144.

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